How to get a divorce if you have a child

Going through a divorce can be a difficult and stressful time for all parties, and matters can be made more complex where there are children involved. It can feel overwhelming to think about the various different aspects that need to be addressed, but with the help of a good solicitor the process can become much more manageable. This article will provide an overview of the most important areas to consider.

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Divorce and children

There are many different factors that can impact on how a divorce involving children will play out. Those can include:

  1. The number of children in the family
  2. The age of the children
  3. The children’s specific needs
  4. The children’s wishes and feelings
  5. The ability of each of the parties to meet the children’s needs, including their financial positions, homes, and working hours

The most important factor, both morally and in the eyes of the law, is the welfare of the children. That needs to be kept in the forefront of everybody’s minds throughout the process.

Custody

The term “custody” is outdated, and in UK law the term “child arrangements” is used instead to refer to agreements between parents as to how children should spend their time.

It is a common misconception that one parent “gets custody” of the child while the other parent loses out. Instead, it is far more common for there to be an arrangement whereby the child divides their time between both parents.

How the child divides their time between their parents is decided on the basis of what is in the child’s best interests, and that can be different for every family. The following article provides more detail on some of the more common arrangements, but it falls to each family to consider what arrangements would be most appropriate for their particular child: Five most common shared custody agreements

The hope is very much that it will be possible for parents to reach an agreement between themselves as to the best arrangements for their child. If that is not possible, either party is free to make an application to the court. The court would encourage the parents to reach an agreement, but if they do not manage to do so, the proceedings could reach a Final Hearing where a judge would make a decision on what they consider to be the most appropriate arrangements. Those arrangements would then be set out in a legally binding Child Arrangements Order.

A Child Arrangements Order sets out who the child lives with and how much time they spend with each parent.

Depending on the complexity of the case, court proceedings can take anywhere from several months to several years. The advantage of being in court proceedings is that the court imposes a timetable on the parties, setting out what needs to happen and when. That helps to ensure that matters continue to progress. Some disadvantages are that the process can be more expensive and more stressful than if the parties manage to reach an agreement themselves.

If the parents do manage to reach an agreement, a Child Arrangements Order can be prepared by agreement and sent to the court for approval, at which point it becomes legally binding.

Other types of orders concerning children

As well as Child Arrangements Orders, there are a number of other types of court order relating to children. The following are a few examples:

Specific Issue Order

These are made when the court is asked to make a decision on a specific question, such as:

  1. Where a child should go to school;
  2. Whether a child’s name should be changed;
  3. Whether one parent should be permitted to move away with the child, either within the country or abroad;
  4. Whether one parent should be permitted to take a child on holiday abroad.

Prohibited Steps Order

These can be applied for by a parent who wishes to stop the other parent taking a certain course of action. They can cover the same sorts of topics as Specific Issue Order. For example, they may state that a parent cannot take a child abroad, change their name, or change their school.

Childcare agreements

If parents are able to agree the arrangements for their children, they may choose to prepare a Parenting Plan rather than formalising the agreement via a Child Arrangements Order.  

A Parenting Plan can cover all sorts of arrangements for the child, including:

  1.   Who the child should live with
  2.   How much time the child should spend with each parent
  3.   Arrangements for Christmas, birthdays and school holidays
  4.   When the child’s bedtime should be
  5.   How much pocket money they should receive

A Parenting Plan is not legally binding and so it does not provide the parents with as much certainty as a Child Arrangements Order, but it can be a very useful tool for setting out the parents’ intentions and for both parents to refer back to if any disagreements arise at a later date.  

The following article provides some useful guidance on how to prepare a fair Parenting Plan: A Guide To Creating A Fair Parenting Plan

Finances

One of the most important factors to be addressed during the divorce process is the parties’ finances. All aspects of the parties’ finances will need to be considered – including any properties, savings, investments, and pensions.

A family solicitor can help the parties come to a fair agreement and formalise that agreement through a court order, in order to make it legally binding and dismiss all future claims.  When considering what agreement is fair, the most important factor is ensuring that the children’s needs are met.

As well as the wider finances, when there are children involved the parties will need to consider child support. This is payable by one parent when their child lives for more than 50% of the time with the other parent. It is calculated based on the paying parent’s income and the number of nights they spend with the child.

Child support is often assessed by reference to the online Child Maintenance Service Calculator, which calculates an approximate figure based on the criteria mentioned above.

If any difficulties arise, either parent is free to make a referral to the Child Maintenance Service, who can assess exactly how much should be paid. The Child Maintenance Service can also enforce payments moving forward.

The following article provides some useful guidance on how to reach an agreement on child maintenance: Child Maintenance Arrangements

How can Goughs help?

Going through a divorce is always a stressful time, particularly where children are involved. Having a good solicitor on board can help to reduce stress and ensure a positive outcome for the children, often without the need to attend court.

At Goughs, our experienced family team can offer help with divorce, finances, and all aspects of child arrangements. Please get in touch to arrange a free 30 minute consultation, where we can discuss your individual circumstances and consider the best way to move forward. 

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Author Bio

Amelia Cruise

I joined Goughs in September 2021 as a Trainee Solicitor, having worked as a property paralegal for three years. I graduated from Swansea University in 2017 with first-class honours in Law, before completing my Legal Practice Course and Masters in Professional Legal Practice with a distinction.

I enjoy working in law because of the personal nature of the work. I pride myself on being a naturally approachable and empathetic person and enjoy working with my clients to achieve the outcome that best suits them.

I was initially drawn to Goughs by their great reputation, range of practice areas, and well-established training programme, which make this a very exciting place to be a trainee.

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